Erik Åkerberg (1860-1938)


Carl Erik Emanuel Åkerberg, born 19 January 1860 in Stockholm and died in the same city 20 January 1938, was a composer, conductor and organist. Cantor at the German Church in Stockholm 1889−92, organist at the Great Synagogue in Stockholm 1890−1928, music teacher at Norra Latin in Stockholm 1895−1923 and at Richard Andersson’s Music School 1897−1909. Åkerberg was elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1900.

Study years and career

After completing his primary education, Erik Åkerberg (1860−1938) began law studies in Uppsala, but in 1882 he turned to music, joining the organ class at Musikaliska akademiens konservatorium (the Royal College of Music) in Stockholm with August Lagergren as teacher. In 1883 he completed his degree in organ performance but continued studying until 1886, taking lessons in counterpoint from Josef Dente. Already during his study years, Åkerberg wrote many works: a symphony, a concert overture, the ballad Skogsrået for baritone and orchestra, a string quartet, etc.

In 1887 Åkerberg travelled to Paris, spending almost a year there. His original plan was to study with Camille Saint-Saëns. But this plan was not realised, so instead he ended up studying with César Franck, which had an impact on his remaining time in Paris. Åkerberg’s contact with Wagner devotee Antoine Lascoux and his circle, including the composers Vincent d’Indy and Emmanuel Chabrier, was of significance for Åkerberg’s aesthetic orientation. While living in Paris, Åkerberg was employed as organist at the Swedish Church and he spent time with other Swedish and Nordic musicians who also resided in the French capital. Åkerberg rounded off his studies on the continent with a month in Berlin. After returning home in 1888, he became very much in demand as a choral conductor, but he was also employed as cantor at the German Church in Stockholm 1889−1892, as organist at the Great Synagogue in Stockholm 1890−1928, as music teacher at Norra Latin in Stockholm 1895−1923 and at Richard Andersson’s Music School 1897−1909. Åkerberg was elected to the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music) in 1900.

Åkerberg the composer

Åkerberg had ambitions in symphonic music and music dramas, but as composer and conductor he came to focus primarily on choral music, solo songs and chamber music, which mirrors the working environment offered to him at the time. His only opera, Turandot (1907), is based on the same story as Puccini’s famous work, but it has never been performed.

According to musicologist Anders Edling, Åkerberg was highly impacted by César Franck’s music and this influence is reflected in his tendency to write in cyclical form and by utilising contrapuntal treatments in his larger instrumental works, but perhaps particularly in his harmonies and quick modulations. A clear example of his compositional style in the spirit of Franck is his piano quintet in A minor op. 18, which he probably began to compose already during his time in Paris. This work won the Musikaliska konstföreningen’s (the Swedish Art Music Society’s) composition prize in 1888 and marks his breakthrough as a composer. According to musicologist Bo Wallner, Åkerberg’s chamber music with piano was a part of the Aulin Quartet’s repertoire for a long time.

After an early attempt during his study years, it was not until 1931 that Åkerberg returned to writing symphonies. His Symphony in E minor in three movements for large orchestra was performed for the first time in Stockholm in 1940. It is characterised by influences from not only Franck, but from Mendelssohn and Franz Berwald as well. According to music historian Lennart Hedwall, Åkerberg wrote ‘a calm retrospective music reflecting the rich experiences of his youth’.

Organist at the Great Synagogue

An interesting feature of note during Åkerberg’s professional life was his employment as organist at the Great Synagogue of Stockholm. Here it should be explained that his duties as organist did not require any religious commitments. He was employed as a musician, with the task of supporting and accompanying certain elements of the Jewish worship. The Stockholm Jewish congregation was part of Judaism’s reform movement of the 1800’s, and was greatly influenced by the new forms of worship in German-Jewish cultural centres such as Berlin, Hamburg and Breslau. The traditional Jewish service of this time centred around a cantor chanting prayers without musical accompaniment. The introduction of an organ and a chorus reflected the reform movement’s general efforts to adapt religious practices to contemporary aesthetic ideals. Consequently, there were few professional Jewish organists available, and moreover, some community members still considered organ playing to be physical work prohibited on the Sabbath. Therefore, it was relatively common for synagogues to employ non-Jewish organists to accompany Sabbath prayer services. In Gothenburg during this period, the Catholic composer Joseph Czapek worked for over half a century as a synagogue organist.

During Åkersberg’s time as organist at the Great Synagogue, Jewish community life in Stockholm was marked by the presence of the prominent rabbis Gottlieb Klein and Marcus Ehrenpreis. Some of Åkersberg’s music was written specifically for the synagogue, including two cantatas for the twenty-fifth and fiftieth anniversaries in 1895 and 1920, respectively. He also composed ‘hymns’ − four-part choral arrangements of tehillim, lyrical prayers from the Book of Psalms − but he does not appear to have been deeply influenced by the Jewish cantorial tradition. However, in one of his autographs he names Louis Lewandowski, the legendary organist at the Neue Synagogue in Berlin, as the source of melody.

Twelve works composed for the synagogue can be found today in the Åkerberg collection at Musik- och teaterbiblioteket (the Music and Theatre Library of Sweden), but most of Åkersberg’s Jewish works are located in the Jewish community archives at Riksarkivet (the National Archives) in Stockholm. Here can be found the scores to his elaborate liturgical arrangements for the main Jewish holidays as well as Friday and Sabbath services, together with a number of his choral recordings. It is also reasonable to imagine that Åkersberg‘s improvisational skills, cultivated while a student of César Franck, came in handy during the many preludes and interludes that were required in the synagogue services.

Anders Hammarlund © 2015
Trans. Thalia Thunander

Publications by the composer

Tiger, Frans, Erik Åkerberg, C. Lambère & A.O. Assar (eds), Normal-sångbok för svenska skolor. 1. samlingen, systematiskt ordnad, teoretisk och praktisk sångkurs för allm. läroverkens lägre klasser, Stockholm, 1908.
Musiklifvet inom Par Bricole, 1779-1890: biografiska skizzer och anteckningar
, Stockholm, 1910.
Skrubben n:o 24: en samling handlingar på vers och prosa, framletade ur arkivets gömma: till hundraårsminnet av Bellmanska sällskapets stiftande, Stockholm, 1923.
Tal vid Bellmanskörens trettioårsfest på Fenix den 15 februari 1925, Stockholm, 1925.


Edling, Anders: Franskt i svensk musik 1880−1920, diss. in musicology, Uppsala University, 1982.
Hedwall, Lennart: Den svenska symfonin, Stockholm: AWE/Gebers, 1983.
Wallner, Bo: Wilhelm Stenhammar och hans tid, vol. 1. Stockholm: Norstedts: 1991.


Musik- och teaterbiblioteket.

Summary list of works

Dramatic music (Turandot, the fairy play Pintorpafrun), orchestral works (2 symphonies, 1 overture, 2 sinfonias, 1 cello concerto, etc.), chamber music (8 string quartets, 2 string quintets, 3 quintets for piano and strings, 2 piano trios, octets, etc.), songs, vocal music (6 cantatas, Friday, Sabbath and festival liturgies).

Collected works

Music drama

Turandot, opera, 1907.
Pintorpafrun, fairy play (Algot Sandberg), 1915.

Symphony in F minor (Sinfonia), 1886.
Symphony in E minor, 1931.

Other orchestral works
(In alphabetical order)
Allegro scherzando [D minor] for orchestra.
Ballad in folk tone for small orchestra.
Berceuse for small orchestra, organ and piano, 1909.
Dala melodies for orchestra, 1933.
En garde! for small orchestra, organ and piano.
Fantasy over two Swedish tunes for small orchestra, 1935.
Festival prelude for orchestra, 1936.
Suite for small chamber orchestra, 1936.
Hindu celebratory procession for small orchestra.
Humoresque for small orchestra [with harp].
Hösttankar (Andante elegiaco) for small orchestra, 1933.
Indian serenade for orchestra.
Two miniatures for small orchestra, 1887.
Notturno for orchestra, 1929.
Oriental festival march for small orchestra, 1933.
Overture [C minor] for orchestra, 1885.
Prelude [A major] for orchestra, 1937.
På fjället, mood image for small orchestra, 1936.
På ledungsfärd, four miniatures for orchestra, 1933. 1. I sol på hav, 2. Hemlängtan, 3. I strid, 4. Drapa.
Sinfonietta appassionata for small orchestra, 1932.
In memory of Carl Michael Bellman, festival march over Bellman melodies for orchestra.
Three tone images for small orchestra [1. D major, 2. A minor, 3. D major], 1936.
Vid Öresund, mood images for small orchestra, 1934.

Solo instrument and orchestra
Concert for violoncello and orchestra, 1930.
Concert piece for bassoon with string orchestra (or piano), 1928.
Mazurka [B minor] for violin solo and small orchestra, 1894.

String quartets
Quartet for strings in A major, 1885.
String quartet no. 1 in F major, 1925.
String quartet no. 2 in F minor. 1926.
String quartet no. 3 in A major, ‘Det våras’, 1926.
String quartet no. 4 [later changed to ‘5’] in D major, 1927.
String quartet no. 6 in C minor, 1934.
String quartet no. 7 in D minor, 1935.
String quartet no. 8 in G minor, 1937.

String quintets
Quintet for 2 violins, 2 viola and cello in G minor, 1925.
Quintet for 2 violins, viola and 2 violoncellos in C minor, 1928.

Quintets for piano and strings
Quintetto pour deux violons, alto, violoncelle et piano in A minor 1887.
Quintet no. 2 in D minor for 2 violins, viola, cello and pianoforte op. 43, 1906−07.
Quintet no. 3 for piano, 2 violins, viola and cello, 1929.

Piano trios
Trio in B minor for violin, cello and piano, 1886.
Trio in B minor for violin, cello and piano, 1888.

Works for violin/viola and piano
Impromptu for violin and piano, 1890.
Sommarminnen, miniatures for violin and piano op. 39, 1905.
Sonata in E minor for violin and piano in E minor, 1922.
Sonata for viola and piano in A minor, 1926.

Other chamber music
Andante con variazioni for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon.
Sextet in D minor for 2 violins, viola, cello, B-flat clarinet and horn, 1928.
Sextet in E-flat major for 2 violins, 2 violas and 2 violoncellos, 1928.
Octet for oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and double bass, 1927.

Voice and orchestra
Die Barde (‘Am öden Felsenufer’, Wolff) for male choir, baritone and orchestra, für Männerchor, Barytonsolo und Orchesterbegleitung, 1895.
I arla morgontimma (Gustaf Lamm) for tenor solo with orchestra.
I storm (‘Det mörknar på himmelens fäste’, G. Söderberg) for baritone and orchestra, 1884.
Skogsrået (‘Han Björn var en stark och fager sven’, Viktor Rydberg), ballad for baritone solo with orchestra. Composed in 1884, revised with new orchestration in 1897.

Voice and piano
Du meine Seele, du mein Herz (F. Rückert), 1891.
Farväl! (‘Farväl! hvard än min framtid’ = ‘Adieu! Je crois’, de Musset, trans. Swe. S-n) op. 20, 1897 (or earlier).
Julsång (‘Goder afton, goder afton’), 1896.
Skalden (‘En främling är jag’, Ernst Beckman), 1884.
Tidt er jeg glad (Ingemann).
Two songs, 1904. 1. Blommorna blekna (‘Det hviskar så sakta’), 2. O, hade jag en guldpokal (Willy A:son Grebst).

Cantata (‘Menskolif, du underbara’, Fergus Schéele) for soli, male choir and piano. Till min högt älskade fader. Minne af 70-årsdagen, 1898.
Kantat till Arla Coldinu-ordens 150 års dag (‘Öfver djupet härskar natten’, Sphinx = E. Andersson) cantata for soli, male choir and large orchestra, 1914/1915.
Kantat till Brummerska skolans invigning 1897 (‘Verk som menskohänder leda’), cantata composed for trio [female] choir with organ and piano, 1897.
Kantat till minnesfesten i mosaiska synagogan sept. 1895 (‘Ljufva äro dina vägar’), cantata composed for soli, [mixed] choir and organ, 1895.
Kantat till minnesfesten i mosaiska synagogan 12 sept. 1920 (‘Stig helga lovsång’), cantata for soli, [mixed] choir, organ and orchestra.
Kantat till Tycho Brahefesten okt. 1901 (‘Tyst i nattens mystiska dager’, Carl David af Wirsén), cantata for soli, [mixed] choir and 2 pianos.

Liturgical works
Adonoj, Adonoj, be oscho. Psalm 21, ‘Kungspsalm’, after Lewandowsky. Till jubileumsfesten i synagogan. [For T solo, SATB and organ.] 1897.
Davids psalm no 100 (‘Fröjdens Herranom all världen’) op. 45 for soprano solo, organ and harp.
Gud vare oss nådig och välsigne oss! Davids Psalm 67. [For SATB and organ.]
Gud är vår tillflykt och vår starkhet. Davids Psalm 46. [For SATB and organ.] 1923.
Görer portarna höga, Davids Psalm 24. [For SATB and organ]. 1922.
Till löfhyddofesten (‘Herre! Herre! hvem skall bo’). Psalm 49 v. 1.2.7. [For SATB] 1895.
Hur dyrbar är ej din nåd, o Gud! for one voice, organ or piano. 1915.
Zaddik kattomar. [For voice and organ.] 1909.

Works by Erik Åkerberg

This is not a complete list of works. The following works are those that have been inventoried so far.

Number of works: 18